HRH the Duke of Edinburgh and his uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten visited Palmerston in February, 1971, arriving on the Royal Yacht Britannia after first calling in at Rarotonga. According to one report, their path through the palms on Palmerston was carpeted with cloth. The Duke also invited the whole island to tea on board Britannia. The Islanders have had a special affection for the Crown since Queen Victoria granted a lease to founding father, William Marsters at the end of the 19th century...but since this visit, they've also claimed a direct link to British Royal Family.
While I can't verify any link independently, the stories I've been told are fascinating and the purpose of this page is to share them with you and leave you to make up your own mind.
According to the late Yolande Browne great great granddaugher of William Marsters by his first wife, the Royal visitors were astonished when they saw a photo of the patriarch. She told me...
"They went into his house and saw his photo on the wall. They stood in front of the photo and took three steps back and bowed to the photo and said this is our 'lost sheep'."
It may be they were joking about the bearded appearance being similar to that of other royals but we'll never know! Lord Mountbatten is also supposed to have confided that there was a Marsters in his own family and the Duke is said to have acknowledged "a probable connection".
In a 1998 letter from Palmerston, the Rev. Bill Marsters adds a further dimension to the story. Referring to William's mother, Ann Armstrong, he says Lord Mountbatten told him Armstrong was a name which originated with the Royal Family of Scotland. "So according to him", he writes, "Ann Armstrong my ancestor was of Royal blood". Bill has also done his own research and says he's discovered that Ann's ancestors were related to King James VI of Scotland (King James I of England)
Prince Philip's visit lives on in daily life on Palmerston. While he was on the island, he swam in a sea pool which is now called 'The Duke's Pool' (and also known as Vai Eli). I'm also told he had a go at eating paw paw (papaya) with his fingers and thoroughly enjoyed the fruit. Unfortunately, no photos exist of what I'm sure must have been an entertaining experience! The Islanders also celebrate with a public holiday called "Duke's Day" each 28 February
When the Duke of Edinburgh died in April, 2021 all the islanders spent the day indoors as a mark of respect for him and the Royal Family. The Union Flag and the Royal Navy Ensign were also flown at half mast
An enduring memory
David Smith from England spent six of his 24 years in the Royal Navy serving on board the Royal Yacht Britannia and vividly recalls the day they called in at Palmerston, It was 4th February, 1977 and Britannia was on a round the world trip for the Queen's silver jubilee....
"We called in for about 8 hours on passage from Rarotonga to East Samoa. We embarked Ned Marsters and many of the islanders who we bartered with for their goods. I remember they primarily wanted things such as soap and biros !! Ned came on board to have tea with the Admiral and left a happy man with a large bag of goodies, the contents of which I never did find out"
Ned Marsters is pictured with Admiral Hugh Janion, Flag Officer Royal Yachts who masterminded the silver jubilee trip. The Admiral died in 1994 and Ned in 1999. I am indebted to David for sending me a copy of the photo from his personal album.
An enduring memory of the day for David are two "handbags" made by Palmerston islanders from coconuts. He exchanged several bars of soap and some chocolate for them. And he tells me they hang to this day on his study wall.
When Elizabeth II was crowned Queen in 1953, one of William's sons was invited to attend the coronation in London. The son was very old by then, so his son (William's grandson) took the invite. But he forgot to tell the Palace that he was attending instead of his father and was refused entry
Photo: Cecil Beaton, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
When HRH Princess Alexandra and her husband, Sir Angus Ogilvy visited New Zealand about 30 years ago, the Princess asked specifically about the Marsters family. She had been watching a display of traditional Cook Islands dancing, at the end of which she was presented with gifts. The teenager, 'Nafi', who made the presentation was asked if she knew of the Marsters family and when she said yes, she was given a big hug and kiss by the royal couple
Family photo used with permission
'Nafi' is a sister of William Marsters great great granddaughter, Yolande Browne who kindly provided a wealth of information for this page. "It was so cool to know that they acknowledged our great great grandfather's family", Nafi said proudly. Yolande, who has since died, is pictured above centre with two of her sisters, Stella (left) and Caroline. I am forever grateful to Yolande for the insight she gave me into the Marsters' story and for being a friend
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